How To Heal After An Abusive Relationship

Image by Viri G. via Flickr / CC BY ND 2.0.

Disclaimer: This article features one perspective about healing from abuse. We acknowledge that there are many different points of view on this subject, and what works for one person may not work for everyone.

If you’ve recently gotten out of an abusive relationship or are considering how to do so, your sense of self has likely been altered or even destroyed. So have your feelings of safety and your ability to trust others.

You can and will regain these things, but it will take time. This is likely one of the hardest things you will ever do, so be patient with yourself. You can move on with your life and feel happy again, even if it doesn’t seem that way right now. Here are some steps you can take to heal:

1. Recognize what happened. If your partner ever physically hurt you, called you names, made you fear for your personal safety, or forced sexual activity upon you, it was probably abuse. Name it. This will help you to understand why you feel the way you do. Personality traits of an abusive partner include a lack of empathy, possessiveness, jealousy, and selfishness. It’s best to give up on any hopes of changing them. If they do it once, they’ll probably do it again, and it’s safest to remove yourself from the situation.

2. Seek professional help. Consider seeing a therapist or seeking out a support group for victims of partner violence and/or assault. Hearing the stories of others who have been through similar experiences may make you feel less alone and will provide you with helpful tips/insight/advice on how to move on.

3. Cut the abuser out of your life. Do not contact them. Do not check their social media. Remove objects and pictures that trigger unpleasant emotions and memories. Ease back on friendships with people who hang out with your ex. Right now your brain chemistry is in a similar state to that of a drug addict who is in the process of recovery. The only way to start healing is to stop exposure to the poison so that you can learn to find other things that will bring you support, comfort, and joy.

4. Make your health a top priority. You will feel less dependent on abusive people when you can recognize your own needs and take care of them, instead of expecting someone else to. This is the time to nourish your body with healthy food and exercise. Force yourself to do these things even when you don’t feel like it, but also take it easy when you really need to.

5. Reach out to friends and family. Ideally, these people will not be connected to your ex. Your abuser is not irreplaceable; find others that embody the traits you want to be around. Consider reconnecting with childhood friends, or meeting new people by joining a sports team or an art class.

6. Focus on your interests. Now is the time to think about you, so develop a passion or interest that you haven’t previously had time for. Creative activities can provide an outlet for intense emotions and can also give you something else to think about. Physical projects like gardening, baking, or woodworking can help you to channel your energy in a positive way and get you out of your head.  

7. Try some short-term dating. Only if you feel ready, go ahead and date new people, but don’t get into another relationship for at least a year. If you do so, you probably haven’t had enough time to heal and build up your self-reliance, so you are in danger of getting into another dependent and possibly abusive situation.

8. Cultivate self-compassion. Say, “I love you” to yourself, even if you don’t really feel it. Be as nice to yourself as you can. Form a mental picture of yourself as a strong, independent person and focus on it. You will start to become this person.

9. Transition from thinking of yourself as a victim to a survivor. You did not deserve what happened to you, and the way you were treated was not fair. You probably felt helpless and like you had no control. Acknowledge that, but also know that you do have control now. You can choose how you respond to this situation and move on, and how you see yourself. See yourself as a survivor, as a warrior who is brave, strong, and capable of getting through anything. Fight for yourself, because you are the most important person to focus on. If you stop relying on other people to fight for you, you will find that your life becomes more joyful, free, and loving.

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